RICHMOND, Va. -- The impacts of gun violence are far-reaching. When someone falls victim to the crime, experts say 'ripple effects' occur. Many times, a victim's family and community are impacted for extended periods of time and sometimes, the trauma never goes away.
One local family is experiencing the tragic outcomes of gun violence firsthand, calling them "mentally, emotionally, physically, and monetarily draining." Thankfully, the Richmond community is rallying around them during their time of need.
"This is where the magic happens," Ganthel Vergara said about the grill inside his food truck.
That's where he cooks up delicious Filipino cuisine.
“Our flagship is the sisig," Vergara said. "It’s grilled pork chopped into pieces and mixed with onions and peppers and Emami sauce which is sweet and tangy.”
The father of three owns "Ato's Sisig and Grill" which is named after his children.
“Alex, Tomas, and Ondrea, so that's ATO," Vergara explained.
He immigrated to the U.S. in 2009 after growing up in the Philippines. He established the food truck in 2018 and has brought the culture of his home country to Richmond ever since.
“I was just surprised to see how people embraced my dishes," he said.
However, the past two months as a business owner has been incredibly challenging. An unthinkable tragedy upended his family's lives on September 26.
“Gun violence, she was a victim of that," Vergara said about his 24-year-old daughter, Alex.
Vergara said she was shot in the leg in Portland, Oregon where she was living. He said police told him it was random and investigators don't know who pulled the trigger.
“I was really mad," he said. "And I was trying to blame everyone.”
Alex suffered a shattered femur and has been in and out of rehab. While she has made some progress, she's still in the thick of her recovery.
“My daughter still cannot walk," Vergara said.
In order to take care of Alex, Vergara was forced to put his food truck business on pause, putting him in a tough financial spot as Alex's medical bills mounted. After hearing about what happened, he said several other business owners stepped in to help.
Among them was Scott Collett, who owns Strangeways Brewing, where Ato's frequently serves customers.
“He became like family to us," Collett said.
He organized a fundraising event over the weekend which benefited Vergara's family.
“This past Saturday was kind of an all-day event. We had several different bands that came out, and we had a few food trucks," he said. "We took a lot of donations from the community.”
Collett said Vergara was also involved in the planning of the event and even offered ideas about bands and food trucks.
"So often you see push of separation. We're not that way. Richmond is not that way," Collett said. "We're all about embracing each other, helping each other, and showing a love for a family that a lot of people just don't know. I've had the pleasure of meeting him, and I've had the pleasure of meeting his daughter, and they are wonderful people."
“I’m really blessed, you know, that's all I can say," Vergara said. "And I didn't expect it, especially as an immigrant.”
Vergara said the battle isn't over yet, but he credited the community for keeping him afloat.
“I really want to thank the RVA community," he said. "Thanksgiving is coming, and I’m going to be thanking a lot of people."
Ato's has three more appearances planned for 2021 before Vergara takes a holiday break:
- Nov. 30 (5 p.m.-7:30 p.m.) at 10637 Toston Lane in Glen Allen
- Dec. 3 (4:30 p.m.-8 p.m.) at Strangeways Brewing's Dabney location
- Dec. 4 (4 p.m.-8 p.m.) at Strangeways Brewing's Scott's Addition location
If you'd like to make a personal donation:
- Venmo: @ganvergara (last 4 digits #9123)
- Paypal: @atossisggrill